SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, you've heard this before: the Jazz will have cap space to burn.
But in the summer of 2016, next offseason, they'll have so much that they'll have to spend somewhere near $20 million just to get to the salary cap floor. And they don't need to fill roster spots, either. The Jazz actually have 18 players under contract right now for 2016-17, though obviously, they'll only be able to keep 15 for the start of the regular season.
Now, the consequences of the salary floor aren't severe: if the Jazz didn't reach the floor, they'd have to cut a check to their roster for the difference. They don't have to lose a draft pick or anything like that.
But paying players they already have on their roster seems like a waste — those players will be on the roster regardless. Adding talent with the extra money is probably the best course of action.
On the other hand, though, the Jazz don't want to spend too much money long-term. Why? Because in the summer of 2017, Rudy Gobert will be up for his raise, likely to be for the maximum contract. Gordon Hayward will probably opt out of his contract then, and deserve a raise too. And in the summer after that, Derrick Favors will be out of his contract, and so will the burgeoning talents of Dante Exum and Rodney Hood: those players are likely to get raises too.
All in all, a long-term contract for big money in the summer of 2016 doesn't look like a good idea unless that player is a sure contributor moving forward. A known NBA talent with youth and star-level ability might be worth the huge financial stress you'd be under in 2017, but not an aging question mark. And in the summer of 2016, there are probably only six free agents who match those criteria: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Al Horford and Dwight Howard. With 27 teams currently slated to have enough money to offer a max contract, it's probably unlikely for the Jazz to get any of those six players.
So, what then? The Jazz have a couple of choices: either sign someone for a one or two year contract at big money, somewhere around $20 million per year, or trade for someone who fits that criteria.
It's possible that someone accepts a shorter deal at big money in order to set themselves up for even bigger money in the summer of 2017, but pretty unlikely. Players this offseason have set the precedent of accepting smaller long-term paydays, over the risk of taking a shorter deal for 2015-16, then getting paid hugely in 2016 as the salary cap rises about 30 percent. The players who accept short-term deals will probably be those at the mid-tier of free agency. Would Luol Deng accept a one-year, $20 million deal? Chandler Parsons? Nicolas Batum? Eric Gordon? Brandon Jennings? Terrence Jones? Donatas Motiejunas? Even with those players, they may want long-term security over a short-term payday, especially with 27 NBA teams bidding for their services.
Which brings us to why the cap space available in the summer of 2016 matters right now: because the Jazz might trade for a player who has a big-money deal ending in 2017 anytime between now and the trade deadline.
Who are some of those players who might be available?
- Danilo Gallinari, if he shows he can stay healthy, might be a player who fits in with the Jazz's system as a big 3 or a stretch 4 in the Jazz's lineup. He has a player option for 2017-18 though, which might be a proposition too risky for the Jazz.
- Ersan Ilyasova is another possible stretch 4 option for the Jazz, but he, too, is injury prone.
- Taj Gibson would be a fun defensive addition, but the Jazz would have to give up real assets to acquire him.
- Andre Iguodala fits the salary bill, but probably not the talent bill given his regression over the last two years.
- Ty Lawson fits the salary bill too, and actually is non-guaranteed for 2016-17, but the Jazz are very unlikely to acquire him given the off-court issues and the chemistry issues he caused with his coaches last season.
- George Hill would be a great acquisition for the Jazz, but I'm still not sure why the Pacers would trade him unless things got very dire for them.
- Trading JJ Redick would give a modicum of salary flexibility to the Clippers, but they'd probably like to be paid handsomely in assets for one of the best role players in the league.
- Tyreke Evans would upgrade the Jazz's talent and give the Jazz a great ball handler beyond Hayward, but his defense hasn't ever been consistent. Maybe Quin Snyder could get the best from him?
- Jrue Holiday would be a great addition at point guard but has been hurt with serious leg injuries over the last two seasons.
- Rudy Gay actually is an intriguing fit for the Jazz as a player who could either play small forward or power forward. He's one of the only players in the league who can both run the pick and roll effectively and post up well, and is a pretty average defender. He has a player option for 2017-18 that he'd probably decline.
- If Kyle Lowry is available, the Jazz have to explore what it would take to acquire him. One of the best players in the Eastern Conference for the first half of last season, Lowry can shoot, make plays and rebound with the best of them. He, too, has a player option for 2017-18 he'd likely opt out of.